The budget slaughter and poor schools

8:57 pm

David Wynde issued a dire warning at the last school board meeting about the coming budget, which he describes as large cuts to an already inadequate base of funding. Though he didn’t say it, there will likely be cuts to programming, increases in class size and maybe even school closures.

Current enrollment figures, released this week, show a persistent pattern of divestment from the poorest neighborhoods in Portland due to the migration of students under the Portland Public Schools student transfer policy, and its labyrinthine, outdated and counterproductive layers of school board exceptions and amendments.

We have allowed “choice” to design a system of schools in Portland that are dramatically inequitable in terms of course offerings, teacher experience, and discipline.

School choice has dismantled, closed, or demolished (literally) every single comprehensive secondary school in the Jefferson and Madison clusters. The same is true for the Roosevelt and Marshall clusters, save two beleagured, largley poor and minority middle schools on the fringes of district boundaries.

The schools that remain disproportionately lack library staff, music, art and electives when compared to the rest of Portland, and are more segregated by race and class than the neighborhoods they serve.

It’s been two and a half years since a joint city-county audit (230KB PDF) concluded that Portland’s school choice system was at odds with strong neighborhood schools, noted declining availability of transfer slots in high-demand schools, and recommended suspension of the transfer lottery “until the Board adopts a policy that clarifies the purpose of the school choice system.”

The school board has never issued that policy, or done anything significant to reform a system that has not only failed, it’s made matters worse.

So, two and half years later, parents in the poorest parts of town are agonizing over ever more rapidly dwindling transfer slots in schools increasing distances from their homes, because their neighborhood schools have been utterly drained of enrollment, funding, and opportunity.

“This isn’t school choice,” one parent told me. “It’s school chance.”

Current transfer policy arose largely out of the last budget crisis, and the result has been devestating to poor neighborhoods and the families who live there. So this current crisis is an opportunity as much as it is a challenge.

It may seem an awkward time to demand the rebuilding of school libraries, music and art departments. But if we spread enrollment and funding proportionately to where students live, we could begin rebuild these programs in schools that have lost them. At the same time, we can maintain a base line of programming at other schools that are currently over-crowded.

Yes, there will be cuts, but some clusters and schools have fared dramatically better under choice than others. We cannot tolerate any more reduction of opportunity in the Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt clusters, all of which have been cut beyond the bone. Yes, the rest of this town may have to go without some of their gravy so these clusters can have a little meat.

Share or print:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email
  • Print

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

filed under: Arts, Budget, Equity, Labor Relations, Libraries, Music, Program cuts, School Board, School Closures

follow responses with RSS

28 Responses

  1. Comment from Marian:

    It’s too bad the transfer policy has been allowed to get so out of hand. Check out this Trib article that talks about how the district has now hired a marketing specialist to promote neighborhood schools: One of the schools that apparently needs to be promoted is Roseway Heights. Yet, if the boundary hadn’t been changed when they created this school, which resulted in lopping off a third of its attendance boundary, they wouldn’t need to be marketed.

    According to the 2007-08 enrollment figures on the PPS website, RH depends significantly upon transfers from other schools. Are these students in the Madison boundary who perceive their neighborhood schools as less desirable than RH? Why does RH have 246 transfers and only 414 neighborhood students attending it? That means more than half of the kids attending are from OUTSIDE the neighborhood. Meanwhile 20% of the kids in the RH boundary transfer out to other neighborhood schools and an additional 16 percent (36% total) transfer to focus option or charter schools? What the hell is going on with this screwed up mess?

    This is only one example of the bizarre realities of this transfer system. I’m sure there are some others out there, too.

  2. Comment from pdxmomto2:

    I agree with the parent who called the current system “school chance”

    It is absolutely heart breaking to have to choose between driving my 5 year old 30 minutes across town to kindergarten or walk her to the school 3 blocks away that has cut out recess in a misguided effort to raise test scores. Believe me parents want to return to their neighborhood schools, but the schools have to change first.

    I have been involved with our Inner North East neighborhood school for the last year and have been disappointed by the antagonistic attitude of the administration and some of the staff. Parent suggestions are dismissed out of hand and the older students are treated with animosity by both staff and the parents of younger Students. Some who are seemingly afraid of the big bad 7th and 8th graders. Middles school students are relegated to portable classrooms, not allowed to walk through the hallways (they have to go outside even in the rain) to get from one end of the building to the other.

    I have joined the PTA but all they seam to do is to raise money to buy technology items for classrooms and sponsor a few student and family activities.

    I wanted so badly for things to work out at our wonderfully diverse neighborhood school. However I can not make my child miss out on the opportunity to attend a school that has recess and treats students as individuals not test scores.

    So I will take my chances with the lottery, and with the charter schools, and hope that my kid doesn’t lose out in the ridiculous “school chance” scheme that our school system has thrown us into.

  3. Comment from Susan:

    The 2007-2008 stats for Roseway include the 187 8th graders from the Madison cluster that started middle school while the building was Gregory Heights Middle School, together with many students from the Rose City Park w/57th loped off boundary that elected to “transfer” to the new Roseway school.
    It would be helpful to see current year info.

  4. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    pdxmomto2: I am in total agreement that the schools have to change first. The transfer policy is a mess, but it cannot be reformed without first addressing the underlying system (actually, the lack of an underlying system) of PK-12 schools.

    It’s a lot of work, but it’s not impossible.

    The hardest thing for the district seems to be acknowledging mistakes (like allowing “choice” to transfer enrollment and funding from the poor to the rich, Gates-style “small schools”, K-8s, and, the monomaniacal pursuit of higher test scores, etc.) and move on.

    There seem to be a lot of people within the district who identify heavily with the “way things have always been,” even things that have only been this way for the last 8 years.

    But I clearly sense an opening. Things have gotten so obviously bad, so shameful and distorted, we seriously have to start over from scratch.

  5. Comment from Marian:

    Thanks for clarifying, Susan. Those statistics seemed very drastic.

  6. Comment from marcia:

    wow, pdxmom, your inner n.e. school sounds strangely like our north portland k-8. i bet your school is also lacking in any kind of substantative (is that a word>.?) program for the middle school. Fortunately we still have recess.

  7. Comment from Terry:

    Really good post, Steve. But please clarify what you mean by

    Current transfer policy arose largely out of the last budget crisis… .”

    It seems to me that the only solution is to stop neighborhood to neighborhood school transfers, and to start immediately allocating funds to schools based on neighborhood school age population.

    Easier said than done, I know, but what other options does the district have?

  8. Comment from pdxexpat:

    So how about a complete redo? Start over by balancing the schools by socioeconomic groups. If there is a school in N. Portland that is suffering because of the large numbers of at risk kids, then redistrict to balance the populations. Each school could have a max of 30% free and reduced lunch. Do away with grandfathering and transfers. Put the magnet options in North Portland & outer SE. There is no reason to have a Spanish Immersion Magnet at Ainsworth. Offer bussing options to those who qualify for F&R lunch.

    Wake County Public Schools in Raleigh, NC has pulled off just this. It should be embrassment to such a progessive city as Portland to have such socioeconomic inequalities in education.

  9. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    pdxmomto2 – Your comments really resonated with me. I also want my kids to attend a school that has recess and treats students as individuals, not test scores.

    As part of the work I’m doing on the Advisory Committee on Enrollment and Transfer for the Superintendent, I’ve asked the district to give the committee information on each school. See my post on this here. As part of the profile, I’ve asked that each school list the amount of time that is devoted to recess each day.
    A colleague of mine teaches pre-K in the district and told me that Kindergarten kids have one 15-minute recess per day. But they fold lunch into recess. So what happens is this: the kids eat their lunch as quickly as possible — or not at all — and then rush out to the play area as quickly as possible. This is the only free time they have all day and have been sitting still all morning long, sometimes for 90 minutes at a time. Lo and behold, she told me, there are often lots of fights and mishaps on the playground, so much so that there’s talk of banning recess. It doesn’t occur to the administrators, she tells me, that a LACK of recess is what is causing the problems at recess. So what’s the solution? Ban the one thing that might actually help solve the problem.


  10. Comment from pdxmomto2:

    Mr. Campbell,

    If you ever do get a hold of that information I would LOVE to see it, and I suspect many other parents would too. For that matter, this is something that the local “news” papers should be investigating.

  11. Comment from Buzz:

    Just saw this in the New York Times:
    “Recess Found to Improve Behavior”

  12. Comment from N/NE Portland mom:

    pdxmomto2, Your experience with your neighborhood schools sounds exactly like mine. I NEVER thought I would consider entering the school lottery to transfer into a school in another neighborhood, but now I am. We’re also considering the online charter schools like EdChoices Estacade Web Academy and Oregon Connections Academy. At least with an online school we don’t have to commute across town for a decent public education.

  13. Comment from mary:

    Hello, I’m an RH parent. Yes, plenty of parents realized that with 1/3 of our boundary gone there would be fewer students and the possibility we would need to rely on transfers to get to the magic 400-600 students. The transfer rate is a bit inflated because many reassigned to Alameda, Laurelhurst and Beverly Cleary chose to continue with RH and had to transfer.

    As for the marketing, there has been some confusion in the neighborhood as to who we are. We “merged” or “moved” into a middle school, leaving some prospective parents wondering if their kindergartner would be attending with 700 12-14 year olds. Some people think we are still a middle school. When you change a school’s configuration, boundary and name confusion results. This is where community outreach and marketing can help. Yes folks, we can no longer concentrate on raising funds and volunteering for classrooms. Thanks to the misguided transfer policy and boundary reduction we now have to spend time and money branding and marketing our school.

  14. Comment from Public school supporter:

    PPS currently has absolutely no incentive to fix the transfer policy that is draining millions of dollars each year from our poorest schools. The school district doesn’t lose any of that money, it just gets moved around from the poorest to the richest schools. There is no political incentive either since the parents with money and political clout are concentrated in the schools that benefit from the transfer policy.

    Anyone who thinks that the superintendent’s Transfer Policy Committee is going to be allowed to recommend policy reforms for the system is seriously deluded. If PPS wanted to change the transfer policy they would have. Waiting over 2 years after the transfer audit to even form a committee to study the issue is the ultimate delaying tactic, not progress.

    Parents in neighborhoods harmed by the transfer policy need to stop supporting PPS until the district reverses the damage done by the transfer policy. If your neighborhood school isn’t up to standard, don’t tranfer to another PPS school. Chooose a charter school, private school, online school through anther district, homeschool. Anything that will hit PPS in the pocket book. And definitely don’t join PPS, Stand for Children, and CPPS in Salem lobbying for more money until PPS stops draining millions of dollars from our poorest schools through student transfers.

  15. Comment from enoughsugarcoatingalready:

    The obvious fact that our poor schools are becoming even poorer seems to be just one side of the picture..if you look at some of the high school data over the past 3-4 years, you also see how fewer and fewer minorities are attending schools in the wealthier neighborhoods ( well, at least for the African American population). Here’s an example= in 2005, Lincoln High School had an African American population of 5.9%. As of Jan. of 2008, that # has dropped to 4.8%. Grant High School had an African American population of 23.1% in 11/2005, and as of Jan. 2008, it dropped to 21.4%. The main reason why I suspect a pattern like this could happen during a time when students from the schools not making yearly progress ( NCLB ) are supposed to get first priority to transfer to a non-NCLB school, is the direct result of PPS mini-campusing all the suffering high schools which therefore ” bought them time ” when it comes to which students get priority in the lottery (when a school re-configures like almost all of the outer-fringe high schools have, they lose the NCLB status for about 2 years I believe ). So what this also means is that, over time, fewer and fewer students from the suffering schools are being allowed to transfer out of their schools. Yet again, another example of how our minority students are hit harder when it comes to the current transfer policy. Steve ( or anyone else ), am I missing anything here? At what point was the whole “racial balance” taken out of the transfer policy? I know it was a considering factor in PPS at one time but no longer is ( I am assuming that the idea of the NCLB students, most coming from higher minority populated schools, would make up for this and therefore create it’s own racial balance? ). But seeing that the numbers are gradually dropping…what does this tell us? I also believe that both of the above mentioned schools ( Lincoln and Grant ) have each experienced a decrease in overall population, which is what I think the district wanted…both schools were busting at the seams. I’ll have to go back and see what the white % has done over the same time span- I am pretty sure it has gone up at both schools, or at least has stayed the same.Hhmm.

  16. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    While the restructuring of Jefferson, Marshall and Roosevelt did reset the clock on NCLB, PPS chose to still allow students assigned to those schools priority transfers, as if the clock had not been reset.

    Still, the real problem is that poor families are typically less “systems savvy” and thus less likely to know they have a transfer option, or how to navigate the arcane labyrinth that is the PPS school choice system, or be able to manage the transportation. Meanwhile, transfer slots into Cleveland, Grant and Lincoln have virtually dried up.

    I have not done the historical analysis of demographic trends in the high schools, but we know for a fact that our schools are more segregated — some significantly more so — than they would be if there were no neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers.

    We also know for a fact that race and income are extremely accurate predictors of the kind of secondary school a student will be assigned to.

    If she is white and middle class, she is likely to be assigned to comprehensive middle and high schools. If she is poor and/or minority, she is likely to be assigned to a K8 and a “small school” academy for high school.

  17. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    “Compared with children who received regular recess, the children cooped up during the day were more likely to be black, to come from low-income and less educated families and to live in large cities.”

    This is a quote from the NY Times article referenced above.

    Yet another reason why low-income, high-minority schools are not attractive to middle-class white parents. It’s simply inhuman to do this to little kids. And it’s sickening that we allow it to happen to our most vulnerable kids. Does anyone really think that making schools into study prisons is going to make kids want to stay in them and graduate from high school?

  18. Comment from jalexmichaels:

    Marshall and Franklin fight over scraps while Cleveland somehow grows to 1500. Inequity in action as we speak. Somehow this boundary change dates from 2003.

  19. Comment from mary:

    Another reason Lincoln, Grant, and Cleveland are full and have fewer transfer slots is due to the placement of focus option and special programs. Cleveland has IB, Grant has Japanese, Spanish and Access, Lincoln has IB and Spanish. Why didn’t the district place any of these programs at schools needing more enrollment?

  20. Comment from enoughsugarcoatingalready:

    Mary, my own personal opinion about why at these schools and not at low enrollment schools has something to do with neighborhood clout and even possibly “rewarding” schools who have thriving school foundations ( the monetary foundations ran by parents that help fund certain things that PPS doesn’t have $$ for ). I find it highly odd that the Japanese program goes from Mt. Tabor to Grant..what was wrong with placing it at Franklin, which is what Mt. Tabor feeds into..? Go figure~

  21. Comment from Rita:

    I have heard from someone I think is a reliable source that Franklin was offered the language immersion programs some years ago, but the school administration for some reason declined the offer. Only then did the District house them at Cleveland. Why Franklin might have refused them is unknown to me.

  22. Comment from Tired Mom:

    ACCESS was placed at Grant because the 1-8 program is (for now) at Sabin (a feeder school to Grant,)and because older students at ACCESS 1-8 already take high school classes at Grant (having run out of curriculum at the Sabin site). Because much of ACCESS is, rightly or wrongly, based on acceleration, it needs to be located in a school that has sufficient AP or IB level courses. Sadly, there’s only one option in NE/N Portland that can do that.

  23. Comment from Anne T.:

    Wynde will talk endlessly about ‘difficult choices’ but will NEVER say the truth. So I will do it for him:
    “We need to raise corporate taxes so that we are not careening from crisis to crisis in this school district and in this state. Until, we the people of Oregon and indeed of the whole US, demand that the rich stop lining their pockets while we fight over crumbs, nothing will change. Our education system is crumbling and our childrens’ futures are being squandered by the obscenely greedy ruling class.”

  24. Comment from marcia:

    my advice about cuts: start at the top…and quit hiring more and more people who are not in the classroom at exorbitant salaries.

  25. Comment from portlandmama:

    Our house is in the Jefferson Cluster. I have children who attend a N.E. Portland Title 1 school, and I feel that I am a very involved parent. I totally agree with some of the comments made above by other parents.
    The transfer policy has done nothing but break apart neighborhoods, and give more money/FTE to the schools who already have so much. Emotions run high on this topic. Nobody on our block goes to our neighborhood school except for my kids—eveyone else drives across town to a ‘better’ school. I refuse to do this, and therefore our family needs to make a choice.
    Unfortunately, since I don’t see a top-notch, enriching, educational experience unfolding at our neighborhood school, and Jefferson High not much of an option for the high school years, we are very seriously contemplating a move to a neighboring school district where kids in the neighborhood grow up together going to the same school (no crazy transfer policy)—and each school has much more to offer. (I speak from experience, as a former teacher in this district) This has been an eye-opening process for me to work through. I have lived in N.E. Portland for 19 years and absolutely LOVE it. The suburbs are not my first choice, but when it comes down to what is best for my kids, I truly see this as the best option. I never imagined that this would be how I feel about PPS.

  26. Comment from ohme:

    Pauling Academy at Marshall high school has AP classes currently offered. They also allow eighth graders who are ready for geometry to take advanced classes on their campus. However, the public is not aware of these offerings. There would be even more AP classes if parents enrolled their students in the school and FTE went up.

  27. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    There would be even more AP classes if parents enrolled their students in the school and FTE went up.

    This is the paradox of our broken, free market-based enrollment enrollment and transfer system: A school needs more enrollment to offer more courses, but it needs more courses to increase enrollment.

    The endgame is that we have four of nine neighborhood high schools significantly under-enrolled, with anemic course catalogs. And they all happen to serve the poorest, least white neighborhoods in Portland.

    If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a PPS administrator or school board member tell me “If we could only get enrollment up at…” (insert one of Jefferson, Madison, Marshall or Roosevelt here) “we could offer more classes there,” I could single-handedly patch the gaping PPS budget hole.

    The PPS attitude is “if they come, we will build it.” That this represents a gross policy failure should be clear to everyone by now.

    This is exactly opposite of how most parents and students make their decisions. They want to go where the programs already exist.

    Because in reality, they know that even if we get enrollment up next year, it will be another year after that before that school sees an increase in FTE.

    They also know that this policy failure is just another in a long string of policy decisions that have hurt our poorest schools, and they have no reason to believe that the district will suddenly start making favorable policy decisions if they start attending them.

  28. Comment from Bili:

    Property taxes need to be raised in nirth northeast to reflect the propert values. I live in se and pay 1000 more in property tax than a friend in ne. His house is worth 170,000 mor than mine.